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The ILC’s 2022 World Conference in brief

Participants at the International Lutheran Council’s 2022 World Conference pose with the seminary community during a visit to Neema Lutheran College in Matongo, Kenya. LCMS Communications/Erik M. Lunsford

KENYA – The 27th (12th) World Conference of the International Lutheran Council (ILC) took place September 13-16, 2022 in Kisumu, Kenya, during which time the council elected a new chairman: Bishop Juhana Pohjola of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland (ELMDF).

A New Chairman for the ILC

Bishop Juhana Pohjola presents during the ILC’s 2022 World Conference.

Bishop Pohjola was acclaimed as the ILC’s new chairman without opposition. Bishop Pohjola was catapulted to worldwide media attention in 2021 after Finland’s Prosecutor General charged him and a Finnish M.P., Dr. Päivi Räsänen, with hate crimes for the 2004 publication of a booklet which articulates historic Christian teaching on human sexuality. While the two were subsequently acquitted in early 2022, Finland’s Prosecutor General has since appealed, meaning the case is not yet over.

Chairman Pohjola succeeds Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt of Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELK). Bishop Voigt, who announced earlier in the World Conference that he would not be standing for reelection, served as ILC Chairman for twelve years from 2010-2022. Prior to that, he served the ILC as Vice Chairman and as Europe Region representative, for a total of 15 years of uninterrupted service on the board.

Elected to serve as ILC Secretary during the 2022 World Conference was Bishop John Donkoh of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ghana. Acclaimed to serve as World Region representatives were: Archbishop Joseph Ochola Omolo (Evangelical Lutheran Church in Kenya) for Africa; President Antonio del Rio Reyes (Lutheran Church in the Philippines) for Asia; Chairman George Samiec (Evangelical Lutheran Church of England) for Europe; President Alceu Alton Figur (Evangelical Lutheran Church of Paraguay) for Latin America; and President Timothy Teuscher (Lutheran Church–Canada) for North America.

The International Lutheran Council’s Board of Directors for the new triennium. Left to right: Archbishop Joseph Ochola Omolo (Kenya); President Antonio del Rio Reyes (Philippines); Chairman George Samiec (United Kingdom); Bishop John Donkoh (Ghana); Past President Robert Bugbee (Canada); Bishop Juhana Pohjola (Finland); President Timothy Teuscher (Canada); ILC General Secretary Timothy Quill; President Alceu Alton Figur (Paraguay); and President Matthew Harrison (USA). LCMS Communications/Erik M. Lunsford

The ILC’s board of directors also includes two other members who are appointed under other criteria. Past President Robert Bugbee of Lutheran Church–Canada and President Matthew Harrison of The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (LCMS) remain on the board in this capacity.

ILC welcomes new members

ILC Chairman Hans-Jörg Voigt and General Secretary Timothy Quill welcome the newest members of the ILC. Left to right: Chairman Voigt, Archbishop Jānis Vanags of Latvia, President Limberth Fernandez Coronado of Bolivia, Pastor Patricio Mora Reyes of Panama, and General Secretary Quill.

The conference brought together church leaders representing 55 church bodies from around the world, including members and guests. Reflecting the ILC’s continued growth, the 2022 World Conference voted to accept two church bodies as full members and one as an associate member. The conference also formally welcomed ten new observer members accepted into the ILC since the last world conference.

The Christian Evangelical Lutheran Church of Bolivia (previously accepted as an Associate Member in 2001) was welcomed as a full member. The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia (accepted as an observer in early 2022) was also accepted as a full member. The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Panama, meanwhile, was newly accepted as an associate member.

Observer membership in the ILC can be granted by the Board of Directors without needing to wait until a world conference. In total, the board has accepted ten new observer members—all from Africa—since the last World Conference in 2018: the Hope Evangelical Lutheran Church in Burundi; the Lutheran Church in Africa – Burundi Synod; the Evangelical Lutheran Church in East Congo; the Evangelical Lutheran Conference and Ministerium of Kenya; the Lutheran Church in Africa – Côte d’Ivoire; the Confessional Lutheran Church – Malawi Synod; the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Congregation in Rwanda; and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in South Sudan and Sudan. The Lake Tanganyika Diocese and the South East of Lake Victoria Diocese of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Tanzania make up the remaining two new observer members (accepted as “recognized organizations”).

Welcoming new observer members accepted into the ILC since the 2018 World Conference.

Liturgy and Ecumenical Relations

The theme for the ILC’s 2022 World Conference was “Liturgy and Culture: How Worship Shapes our Life Together and Why We Do What We Do.” Serving as essayists were Bishop Juhana Pohjola of Finland; Rev. Dr. Naomichi Masaki (Fort Wayne, USA); and Rev. Dr. Alexey Streltsov (Novosibirsk, Russia), with an additional presentation by Bishop Juan Pablo Lanterna of Chile.

Based on these presentations and ensuing discussion, the conference ultimately adopted a summary Statement on Liturgy and Culture. It further decided unanimously to produce a statement rejecting virtual communion.

Among other business, the World Conference also received a report on the results of the ILC’s recent ecumenical discussions with the Roman Catholic Church’s Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU). The Final Report on those discussions was published in 2021, and found significant convergences between the two traditions in a number of areas.

In light of this report, and taking into account the written recommendation of Cardinal Kurt Koch of the PCPCU and ILC Chairman Hans-Jörg Voigt, the ILC World Conference adopted a resolution calling for continued ecumenical conversations with the Roman Catholic Church in the leadup to the 500th anniversary of the Augsburg Confession in 2030.

Additional news on the ILC’s 2022 World Conference can be found here.

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Christianity on Trial: Finnish bishop and politician acquitted on all charges

Bishop Juhana Pohjola and Dr. Päivi Räsänen speak before trial proceedings on February 14, 2022. (Photo: ELMDF).

FINLAND – On March 30, 2022, the District Court of Helsinki acquitted Bishop Juhana Pohjola of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland (ELMDF) and Finnish Member of Parliament Päivi Räsänen on all charges. The two had been charged with hate crimes for articulating historic Christian teaching on human sexuality.

“This is not only a victory for us but for freedom of speech and religion in Finland and beyond,” said Bishop Pohjola in a statement after the ruling. “In seeking to criminalize Christian teaching on sexuality, the prosecution cast a shadow of fear over society. It was important to receive a strong signal from the District Court defending our fundamental rights as citizens and Christians.”

“I would like to thank all of those who have provided support and encouragement during this long process,” Bishop Pohjola continued. “There has been a tremendous outpouring of intercession from all around the world. Ultimately, this is a spiritual battle and a matter concerning the Gospel of Christ.”

The trial and its implications for religious freedom in Finland drew worldwide attention. Dr. Räsänen had been charged for authoring a 2004 booklet which discusses the Church’s traditional teaching on sexuality, in the context of the then-ongoing debate in Finland on the legalization of same-sex marriage. Bishop Pohjola was charged for his role as publisher. Dr. Räsänen also faced two other charges for public statements on sexuality, including for a tweet in which she included a photograph of a Bible verse.

The court proceedings drew particular concern, as the prosecution focused on examining the defendants doctrinal beliefs—a “conflation of juridical and theological argumentation,” in Bishop Pohjola’s words, which seemed worryingly out of place in a civil court.

In a unanimous decision, the three judge-panel of the District Court of Helsinki ruled that Dr. Räsänen and Bishop Pohjola be acquitted on all charges, declaring that “it is not the role of the district court to interpret biblical concepts.” It further ordered the state to pay the legal costs of the defence.

The Prosecutor General, who decided to press charges despite an initial investigation by Helsinki police which determined no laws had been broken, had been seeking steep fines against Dr. Räsänen and Bishop Pohjola. The prosecution had asked the court to fine Dr. Räsänen the maximum criminal victim compensation possible—equivalent to 120 days of personal income. Bishop Pohjola faced the possibility of a fine equivalent to 60 days of personal income. The ELMDF’s legal entity, meanwhile, was threatened with a corporate fine of €10,000 for publishing the booklet.

The court’s decision to acquit was welcomed by the International Lutheran Council (ILC), which has covered the situation in Finland extensively. “There is a dangerous movement in western societies today to impose a progressive secular religion on others, at the expense of freedom of speech and religion,” said ILC General Secretary Timothy Quill. “This new orthodoxy seeks to stamp out all opposition, including those who uphold the traditional view of human sexuality, which is supported by both Holy Scripture and natural law. The proponents of the new orthodoxy may find today’s ruling a jarring speed bump to their agenda but not, I fear, a stop sign.”

“Thank God for the Helsinki District Court, which still respects the principles of freedom of speech and action, and responded with a unanimous, clear decision to acquit on all charges,” Dr. Quill continued. “And thank God for Bishop Pohjola and Dr. Räsänen, who have given a bold and graceful witness to both God’s Law and the saving proclamation of the Gospel of forgiveness in Christ. They are faithful examples to Christians the world over.”

After the prosecution brought charges against Bishop Pohjola and Dr. Räsänen in 2021, the ILC issued a public protest signed by the ecclesiastical leaders of 45 confessional Lutheran church bodies worldwide. It further sponsored a lecture tour by Bishop Pohjola to draw attention to the case and its implications for freedom of religion and freedom of expression. The ELMDF is a member of the ILC.

While the decision to acquit has been welcomed by many, the case is not necessarily over; the prosecution still has the opportunity to appeal the decision to Helsinki’s Court of Appeal.

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Closing statements heard in trial against Finnish Bishop and MP

Bishop Juhana Pohjola and Dr. Päivi Räsänen speak before the trial reconvenes on February 14, 2022. (Photo: ELMDF).

FINLAND – Proceedings in the trial against Finnish MP Päivi Räsänen and Bishop Juhana Pohjola of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland (ELMDF) continued on February 14, with the prosecution and the defense making their closing statements.

“The main idea of the Prosecutor seems to be that the Bible should not be taught in its own right in public, and that freedom of religion does not allow permission to speak out loud if what is said is considered to discriminate against a minority group,” commented Bishop Pohjola following the prosecution’s closing statement. “In this view, biblical teachings on marriage, sexuality, sin, and mercy could not be proclaimed publicly. This is an attack on religious freedom.”

The two are on trial for their articulation of historic Christian teaching on human sexuality. Dr. Räsänen is charged for authoring a 2004 booklet entitled “Male and Female He Created Them: Homosexual Relationships Challenge the Christian Concept of Humanity,” and Bishop Pohjola is charged for publishing the work. Dr. Räsänen also faces two other charges, including for criticizing Finland’s national Lutheran church—of which she is a member—for its support of Helsinki Pride in a tweet that included an image of a Bible verse from Romans 1:24-27.

The Prosecutor General has requested that the court impose the maximum criminal victim compensation on Dr. Räsänen, valued at 120 days of personal income. The prosecution requests Bishop Pohjola be directed to provide compensation equivalent to 60 days of personal income. The prosecution has further requested a corporate fine of €10,000 against the ELMDF’s legal entity, the Luther Foundation.

The court will announce its verdict on March 30.

The decision to put the two on trial has led to international outcry, with many calling it an attack on religious freedom. The International Lutheran Council (ILC)—of which the ELMDF is a member—was among those expressing serious concern about the decision to charge Bishop Pohjola and Dr. Räsänen and encouraging prayer for them.

The trial began on January 24. In her opening remarks, the Prosecutor General suggested that the trial was in no way about the Bible. But over the course of her presentation, and throughout her argumentation and questioning, she returned repeatedly to discussions of the nature of Scripture, the defendant’s hermeneutics, and the Christian understanding of sin.

Bishop Pohjola and Dr. Räsänen (Screenshot: ELMDF)

“I assumed the Prosecutor would not go into this matter of the Bible and theology,” noted Bishop Pohjola in an interview with Studio Krypta (a media program of the ELMDF) following the first court date. “I thought that this would be a cold juridical handling of these matters. In that, I was truly surprised.”

“Although she stated this was not about the Bible or about freedom of religion or opinions,” he continued, “she went quite deeply into theological issues.” The Prosecutor questioned the Bishop on his understanding of the relationship between the Old and New Testaments, the status of biblical and civil law, and so forth—a “conflation of juridical and theological argumentation” which seemed remarkable in a civil court. Worse, Bishop Pohjola said, was the Prosecutor’s attempt to link those who accept historic Christian teaching on sexuality with those who would kill or rape in the name of religion.

Regarding the booklet itself, Dr. Räsänen suggested in the same interview with Studio Krypta that the prosecution had to “cherry-pick” pieces here and there, dealing only with “peripheral matters” while ignoring the “central teachings of the booklet” in order to justify the charges. “What I grasped there in the trial, and actually even before it, was what a weak basis they had” to proceed to trial, Dr. Räsänen said. “What the State Prosecutor read out [as charges], what she stated was written in the booklet, was untrue; those statements were not found there—not on the radio program, not in the booklet, nor in the tweet.”

Bishop Pohjola concurred. “I was puzzled when the Prosecutor read out the charges,” he said. The prosecution accused Dr. Räsänen of having called homosexuals pedophiles, saying they arose from genetic error, and even suggesting they were not created by God. The defendants rejected all of the charges as completely false, noting they were directly contradicted in the booklet and other public statements.

Instead, Bishop Pohjola argued, the booklet explains that, while historic Christian teaching considers homosexual acts to be sinful on the basis of Scripture, Christians do not therefore consider homosexuals any different than any other person before God. “All are of equal worth, and all are under sin, and all are under grace,” he explained. “We all have the same position before God. We want to say that homosexuals with these tendencies are welcome in our churches, to live in contact with Christ, and to find their identity—just as each of us should find our identity—as the creation of God, redeemed by Jesus Christ.”

“In the Prosecutor’s mind, these statements are of no importance—not believable,” Bishop Pohjola lamented. “But these are the ‘big picture’—the entire bedrock on which we Christians stand.”

“We denounce all improper and violent and inflammatory speech,” he said simply. “But the basic Christian preaching of the Law and Gospel is not that. ”

While admitting to feeling nervous in the lead-up to the trial, Dr. Räsänen said she “went into court with a calm mind.”

“I went there trusting God,” she explained. “I have felt very strongly, ever since that tweet I wrote, that this matter is in God’s hands and under His guidance. So, this is the path I must take.”

You can watch the entire Studio Krypta interview with Bishop Pohjola and Dr. Räsänen below. Be sure to select “English” in the closed-captioning options.

Additional information on the situation in Finland is available from the International Lutheran Council here.

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ILC urges prayer for Finnish Bishop and MP as trial begins

FINLAND – The International Lutheran Council (ILC) is urging prayer for Rev. Dr. Juhana Pohjola and Dr. Päivi Räsänen as their trial in Finland begins today, January 24, in what has been widely criticized as an infringement on religious freedom. Dr. Pohjola is Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland and Dr. Räsänen is a Finnish Member of Parliament.

The two face charges over the 2004 publication of a booklet authored by Dr. Räsänen which articulates historic Christian teaching on human sexuality. Bishop Pohjola has been charged as the publisher of the work. Despite an earlier investigation by Helsinki Police which concluded there was nothing illegal about the text, Finland’s Prosecutor General decided to charge the pair with “incitement against a group of people.” In addition, Dr. Räsänen faces several additional charges, including for quoting Scripture in a tweet which criticized her church body for participating in Helsinki Pride.

In 2021, the ILC published a letter signed by the bishops and presidents of dozens of Lutheran church bodies around the world protesting the decision to charge the pair for expressing biblical views on human sexuality. The ILC also sponsored an American tour on religious freedom in which Bishop Pohjola explains the situation taking place in Finland more clearly.

Please keep Dr. Räsänen and Bishop Pohjola in prayer throughout the trial:

Lord God, heavenly Father, You sent Your only begotten Son to stand before Pilate to bear witness to the truth; He sent out His twelve with the promise that they will stand before governors and kings for Your sake, and bear witness before them, for the Gospel must be proclaimed to all nations. Pour out your Holy Spirit upon Finnish Lutheran Bishop Juhana Pohjola and Dr. Päivi Räsänen, that they might continue to proclaim Your Word with courage and clarity as they stand before the Finnish civil court; that Your divine law might convict those who persecute them and that Your Holy Gospel and Spirit would turn their hearts to repentance and true faith; through Jesus Christ, You Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever. Amen.

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American Lecture Tour by Bishop Juhana Pohjola

NOTE: Unable to attend in person? You can also watch Bishop Pohjola’s lecture live online here.

USA – In November 2021, Rev. Dr. Juhana Pohjola will visit the United States of America for a lecture tour sponsored by the International Lutheran Council (ILC).

On August 1, 2021, Dr. Pohjola was consecrated Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland (ELMDF). He enters the role at a challenging time: Bishop Pohjola faces criminal charges in Finland for his role in publishing a 2004 booklet which articulates historic Christian teaching on human sexuality.

Should it be illegal to identify homosexual activity as sinful? That’s the question facing Bishop Pohjola now, seventeen years after the booklet was first published. He and the booklet’s author, Dr. Päivi Räsänen (a Finnish Member of Parliament), have been charged by Finland’s Prosecutor General with “incitement against a group of people.”

What can we learn from Bishop Pohjola’s story? How should we respond to a world that is increasingly intolerant of Christian beliefs? And what does Scripture have to say to us about being persecuted on account of our faith in Christ? Come hear Bishop Pohjola in person to find out.

There are three opportunities to hear Bishop Pohjola speak:

  • November 10, 2021 (10:00 a.m.) in Washington, D.C at the office of the Alliance Defending Freedom
  • November 13, 2021 (9:30 a.m.) in Fort Wayne, Indiana at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church
  • November 16, 2021 (10:00 a.m.) in Boston, Massachusetts at First Lutheran Church

NOTE: Those wishing to attend the Washington event are required to register in advance here: http://www.adfinternational.org/DCLecture.

Those wishing to advertise the event in their local congregation can download a poster and bulletin inserts (black and white/colour) here.

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A Protest and Call for Free Religious Speech in Finland

A Global Lutheran Response to the Unjust Prosecution of Bishop Elect Juhana Pohjola and Member of Parliament Päivi Räsänen


June 29, 2021
 – The bishops and presidents of dozens of Lutheran church bodies worldwide are joining the International Lutheran Council (ILC) in issuing “A Protest and Call for Free Religious Speech in Finland.” The letter—signed by 48 ecclesiastical leaders representing 45 Lutheran church bodies and associations across the globe—condemns the ongoing criminal prosecution of Bishop Elect Juhana Pohjola of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland and Finnish M.P. Päivi Räsänen for expressing biblical views on human sexuality.

Bishop Elect Pohjola and Dr. Räsänen have been charged by Finland’s Prosecutor General with incitement against a group of people as a result of the 2004 publication of a booklet which articulates historic Christian teaching on human sexuality. “The actions of the Finnish State in prosecuting Christians for holding to the clear teaching of the very words of Jesus regarding marriage and sex (Matthew 19:4-6) are egregious,” the Lutheran leaders write in their letter. “And this particularly so since the accused clearly affirm the divinely given dignity, value, and human rights of all, including all who identify with the LGBTQ community.”

“We Lutherans make this strong confession along with Drs. Pohjola and Räsänen,” the letter continues. “The vast majority of Christians in all nations, including Catholics and Eastern Orthodox, share these convictions. Would the Finnish Prosecutor General condemn us all? Moreover, shall the Finnish State risk governmental sanctions from other states based on the abuse of foundational human rights?”

The signatories write that they “condemn the unjustifiable criminal prosecution of the Rev. Dr. Juhana Pohjola and Dr. Päivi Räsänen M.P. for their public expressions of faith” and “call on the Finnish authorities to immediately discontinue their efforts to punish Rev. Dr. Pohjola and Dr. Räsänen, to cease the prosecution of persons for the public expression of their faith, and to recommit to protecting the freedom of religion and freedom of speech in Finland.”

The International Lutheran Council is a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies. Signatories of the letter (which is available in English, Spanish, and Finnish) include not only leaders of the ILC and its member churches, but also several Lutheran church bodies unaffiliated with the ILC, including church bodies associated with the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference.

Copies of the letter have been sent to the Office of the Prosecutor General of Finland, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Freedom of Religion or Belief, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of Freedom of Opinion and Expression, and the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom.

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Download the full document here in English, Spanish, and Finnish.

 

European Lutheran Conference: Sharing Hope in Times of Fear

Some of the participants in the 2021 European Lutheran Conference.

EUROPE – The 26th European Lutheran Conference (ELC) was held online from June 2-4, 2021, following a year’s delay due to the pandemic. Participants gathered under the theme “Sharing Hope in Times of Fear.”

The conference featured three keynote presentations: Rev. Sebastian Gruenbaum of Finland presented on “Living in My Generation: Hopes and Threats of Our Time in the Light of Christ’s Word;” Rev. Dr. Christian Neddens of Germany spoke on “Living with Hope in Daily Life: How the Christian Faith Shapes Our Actions and Witnessing to Our Generation;” and Rev. Dr. Asger Christian Hoejlund of Denmark lectured on “Hope as Drawn from Martin Luther’s Writings of 1520.”

“The presentations stimulated lots of discussion,” noted Chairman George Samiec of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of England (ELCE), who participated in the event. In addition to the pandemic, he said, topics of discussion included personalities, the Last Judgement, looking to the future with fear or love, and the question of whether society is becoming increasingly intolerant. “It occurred to me that our conference theme is applicable all the time and not just in a pandemic,” Chairman Samiec continued, “because our world is full of mishap and mayhem, sudden death and chronic conditions where injustice and the grave seem to have the last word. Jesus has a message for all time because His love can cast out fear (1 John 4:18).”

The conference also featured morning and evening devotions, reports from member churches, group discussions of presentations, and the writing of a paper on the conference theme.

The next conference is set to take place in 2023 in Aarhus, Denmark. The Executive Committee members for that event are the same as for 2021’s: Rev. Klaus Pahlen of Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (Selbständige Evangelisch—Lutherische Kirche – SELK) will serve as ELC President; President Leif Jensen of the Evangelical Lutheran Free Church in Denmark (Den evangelisk-lutherske Frikirke i Danmark – ELFD) will serve as ELC Vice President; and Rev. Claudio Flor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of England will serve as ELC Secretary.

The ELC is an association of Confessional Lutheran church bodies in Europe. Delegates at this year’s conference included representatives of member churches in Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Norway, Portugal, and the United Kingdom, all of whom are also members of the International Lutheran Council. The event also saw guests from churches in the Czech Republic, Finland, Spain, and Switzerland.

Additional information on the European Lutheran Conference is available on their website at: euluthconf.org.

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Finnish Bishop Elect charged over historic Christian teachings on human sexuality

ELMDF Bishop Elect Juhana Pohjola.

FINLAND – Rev. Dr. Juhana Pohjola, Diocesan Dean and Bishop Elect of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland (ELMDF) has been charged by Finland’s Prosecutor General with incitement against a group of people. The charges stem from a 2004 booklet published by Luther Foundation Finland (the legal entity behind the ELMDF) which articulates historic Christian teaching on human sexuality.

“As a Christian, I do not want to and cannot discriminate against or despise anyone created by God,” Dean Pohjola said in reaction to being charged. “Every human being, created by God and redeemed by Christ, is equally precious.”

At the same time, he continued, “this does not remove the fact that, according to the Bible and the Christian conception of man, homosexual relations are against the will of God, and marriage is intended only between a man and a woman. This is what the Christian church has always taught and will always teach.”

Finland’s Prosecutor General began an investigation of the ELMDF in 2019 for its booklet “Male and Female He Created Them: Homosexual Relationships Challenge the Christian Concept of Humanity,” despite an earlier investigation by Helsinki Police which concluded no laws had been broken. The booklet was published in 2004; Finland legalized same-sex marriage in 2017.

The booklet argues that homosexual activity must be identified as sin by the church on the basis of the teachings of Scripture. The author, Dr. Päivi Räsänen—a Finnish Member of Parliament—further argues that a failure to recognize sin as sin undermines the very need for a Saviour.

Dr. Räsänen has now been charged with incitement by the Prosecutor General, both for the booklet and for other comments on human sexuality. As Dean Pohjola is editor-in-chief of Luther Foundation Finland’s publications—including the booklet “Male and Female He Created Them”—he also was charged.

“This decision of the Prosecutor General says a lot about our time,” Dean Pohjola commented. “While I am concerned about the state of religious freedom in our country, I trust that the judiciary will make the right decision.”

The International Lutheran Council has earlier expressed concern about the investigation of Lutherans in Finland for upholding historic Christian teaching. That concern is deepening. “Recent actions in Finland have created an international scandal which continues to grow,” said Rev. Dr. Timothy Quill, General Secretary of the International Lutheran Council. “The implications of the decision to charge Juhana Pohjola and Päivi Räsänen are clear: if the authorities are willing to do this to a respected pastor, reverend doctor, and Bishop Elect, as well as a Member of Parliament and former Minister of the Interior, then that sends a message of fear and intimidation to everyone in Finland who follows the Scripture’s teaching on human sexuality.”

“Faithful Christians need to demonstrate solidarity with their suffering Finnish Lutheran brothers and sisters,” General Secretary Quill continued. “We must not be silent but express righteous indignation at the actions of the Finnish authorities and demand an end to the persecution of those who adhere to historic Christian teaching on sexuality. I encourage Christians around the world to pray for Juhana and Päivi, and to follow the example and command of Jesus: ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you’ (Matthew 5:44).”

The ELMDF is a member church of the International Lutheran Council, a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies representing millions of Lutherans worldwide.

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See also the ELMDF new release here (in Finnish).

Finnish Lutherans Elect New Bishop

ELMDF Bishop Elect Juhana Pohjola.

FINLAND – The Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland (Suomen evankelisluterilainen lähetyshiippakunta -ELMDF) has elected Diocesan Dean Juhana Pohjola to serve as its new bishop.  The election was announced during the ELMDF’s Diocesan Assembly on January 23, 2021.

“I wish to express my gratitude for the great confidence you have shown in me by giving me such strong support and by electing me for this important and demanding task,” said Rev. Dr. Pohjola in a speech after the election. “I feel great weakness faced with such a great task and calling but I know that the matter has been discussed in the congregations, and that many prayers and intercessions have been said for the matter, which encourages me to look forward to this.”

In total, Dr. Pohjola received 111 votes (90.2 percent) through advance voting, while candidate Rev. Esko Murto received 12 votes. A total of 95 percent of potential delegates voted in the election.

Dr. Pohjola’s consecration as bishop is planned for August 1, 2021 at the ELMDF’s Mission Diocese Summer Festival in Loimaa, Finland. He will be the third bishop in the history of Finland’s Luther Foundation, and the second for the ELMDF itself. Dr. Pohjola will succeed Bishop Risto Soramies, who has served as Bishop from 2013-2021. Matti Väisänen served as the first Finnish Bishop of the Mission Province of Sweden and Finland from 2010 until the emergence of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland in 2013.

Dr. Pohjola has served as Diocesan Dean of the ELMDF from 2013 until the present, and as dean of its supporting trust, Luther Foundation Finland (LFF), from 2000-2001 and 2012 to the present. He previously served as head pastor of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Helsinki from 2000-2010, and as a visiting scholar at Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary (St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada) from 2011-2012. He holds a Master of Theology degree from the University of Helsinki (1997), a Master of Sacred Theology degree from Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana (1998), and a Doctorate of Theology from the University of Helsinki (2014).

Dean Pohjola was ordained in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland’s (ELCF) Diocese of Oulu in 1999 in order to serve the then newly founded Luther Foundation Finland. In 2004, the LFF broke fellowship with the ELCF over doctrinal differences. The LFF found itself shunned by the ELCF but the unexpected publicity led to rapid growth in the LFF. Dean Pohjola was eventually defrocked by the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland in 2014 after the founding of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland.

The ELMDF and Dean Juhana Pohjola drew international attention in 2020 when Finnish police began investigating them for the 2004 publication of a booklet which defended historic Christian teaching on human sexuality. The booklet, which was written by a Finnish Member of Parliament, was published well before the 2017 legalization of same-sex marriage in Finland. Dean Pohjola was interrogated for five hours as part of an ongoing investigation which has sparked international concern over the state of religious freedom in Finland.

The Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland is a member of the International Lutheran Council, a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies worldwide.

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Adapted from an ELMDF news release. For more information, see the ELMDF’s report here.

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